This article originally appeared in Issue #003 of the downloadable PDF magazine.
The Veloth are a Major Race living spinward of the Imperium. Though normally beyond the reach of Humanity, they have set up some shop in the Fulani Sector and appear occassionally in The Vanguard Marches. Regarded as a major problem to those around them, they are a TL-13 Empire with a wide array of subject and client races.
Physically, the Veloth are unimpressive. They are upright bipedal omnivores, similar to humans. They stand 1.4 to 1.8 meters tall, and weigh between 50 and 75 kilograms. They have digitigrade legs and walk on their metacarpals, similar to the Vargr. Each of their hands has two thumbs, one on either side of their palm, giving them relatively strong crush and support grips. Their blood is haemocyanic rather than haemoglobic, which makes it much less efficient than red blood. Their overall physical profile is similar to humans, and equipment manufactured for one (with special exceptions, such as keyboards and footwear) can be used by the other.
As of the Golden Age, the Veloth are 98% united in a single, strong interplanetary government, called the Aashuuna Hegemony. The government is led by the Ven Aashuuna Hegemon, a quasi-hereditary and ceremonial office, supported by a Chancellor and six Privy Ministers. From the capital planet of Anem, they direct the whole of the Empire. The Hegemony is divided into five regions, called Commanderies, corresponding to the core of their Empire and the four directions. The Commandants of these regions are absolute military dictators, and several times in history have they been the nucleus of civil war. Despite their great power, they do not choose their own successors - they serve a fixed term, are replaced from the capital, and are always under close supervision.
The history of the Veloth started on the planet Anem. Anem was the subject of biological research by the Ancients, who deposited six sentient species there. The Veloth, having no natural advantages, were the weakest of them. After several centuries of fits and starts and attempts to form their own kingdom, they were fully absorbed by the neighboring Urja Empire while the planet was moving through Tech Level 2. The Urja were at the absolute apex of society, and had begun to fetishize uselessness - thus providing a window for the Veloth, despite being no more than slaves, to infiltrate their society and amass wealth and influence.
In time, the Veloth were fortunate enough to produce a leader, Iqret Shardariyas, who formed a private agreement with the Urja's sepoy armies to turn against their former master. After a brief yet bloody conflict, the Veloth found the once-omnipotent Urja Empire their own property in name as well as function. Iqret himself turned to writing the Holy Books - the Books of History, Rites, and Law - that continue to define Veloth society and culture. After his death, he was venerated as a God, joining their mythological Liberator as an object of worship. To this day, there has always been a Hegemon, even when the office had no power.
The Ancients were known to these primitive Veloth - the Urja had taken to worshipping an Ancient building on Anem, known as the Tower. When the Veloth took control, they destroyed the Tower, and declared that whoever built it was their enemy. Thus began their great quest to purify the galaxy, imagined as an all-consuming war. On one side was the Ancients, often thought of simply as 'The Gods,' and all their creations - that is to say, everything else in the universe. On the other side was the Liberator, the Lawgiver, and Veloth, as well as everything the Veloth had brought under their political control.
While the Veloth haven't always functioned as a single, seamless machine - in fact, they've spent more time as rival powers than as a unified Hegemony - it's still an important image that influences their society in subtle and important ways. It's also what makes them such a threat. After all, Veloth may fight with each other, and Veloth may ally with each other, but the outside world is nothing more than the enemy, with no more purpose or importance than to be fought off, conquered, and plundered. Even knowledge of the outside is disdained - only a handful of Veloth who work in the intelligence community can even name a single other Major Race.
The core of Veloth society is the extended, multi-generational family, with one man and all his living descendants forming a social and economic unit. The head of the family is the patriarch and has tremendous power. Everything his male and unmarried female descendants produce belongs to him, and he can freely dictate what jobs they are to hold and how they are to be educated. When he dies, all of his sons become patriarchs over their own descendants. People can become emancipated from their families, sometimes even taking their descendants with them, but it's rare.
The Veloth are less than 3% of the population of their own Empire. Everyone else, bluntly, is a slave - either to individuals or to the Hegemony. The Veloth themselves are the administrators, scientists, businesspeople, and military officers of society, and even the lowest of them manages something. All other work is done by slaves. The Veloth actively seek out planets occupied by sentient life, and descend from the clouds to prop up client governments and put the planet to economic use. Over time, as the Veloth hold over the planet increases, they dispense with these client states and start running it directly. This allows further development of industry and wealth, which prompts more Veloth to come, which causes the local Veloth community to grow and prosper, which eventually serves as a springboard for the whole process to repeat somewhere else.
This system is very, very good to them - even the poorest Veloth can afford a handful of servants, and the wealthiest of them live in opulence beyond even the Chinese emperors. Unlike some other empires, though (including the one they replaced), they do not fetishize idleness and unproductivity. To the Veloth, money and status are everything, and they lie awake at night scheming about how to acquire more. One of the great new fads among the Veloth is 'Freelance Pioneering,' in which a group of settlers will raise money from private investors to establish a colony on a yet-unacquired world. These settlers can use that money to buy everything from conscript workers to mobile refineries to chemical weapons and ortillery, in case the locals are better cleared-off than put to work. Though they are shy about physical labor, the Veloth throw themselves into their work and take great interest in industry and technology.
In fact, their brand of tyranny is so successful that many of their subjects would never even dream of fighting back. In newly-acquired planets, the Veloth are invisible, perching in high orbit and relaying their orders in secret to local strongmen. However, once they have established themselves openly, the Veloth begin a long process of changing the local cultures to suit their purposes. In time, the captured peoples begin to think of themselves as stakeholders in the Hegemony, and even become grateful to the Veloth for 'helping' them. It's a testament to their skill as conquerors that their Navy makes intense use of kamikaze fighters.
No Veloth will ever, except for some tremendous circumstances, speak with someone from outside their Empire. Learning a foreign language is wholly out of the question. Most Veloth are capable of speaking three languages. The first, referred to as High Veloth or Star-Writing, is their ancestral language from before they were slaves of the Urja. It uses an ideographical script, in which each written character is a 'constellation' with one or more 'planets' written around it. The language itself is tonal and extremely hard to learn, with different words said at different tones to describe tense. It is a carefully-guarded secret, and non-Veloth are not allowed to learn it. Their second language, referred to as Low Veloth or Empire-Speech, was the common language of the Urja Empire. It has a regular alphabet, and is used for all technical or commercial activities. The third language, Middle Veloth or Veloth-Speech, is a synergy of the two languages. It has great flexibility and nuance, and is the standard language of the Veloth for all common activities. It is impossible to understand if you don't already speak its two parent languages. Veloth servitors will learn to speak Low Veloth and learn to write in special ideograms that reflect their jobs, and only their jobs - a kind of Simple Writing, geared to only one purpose.
The Veloth surround themselves with servants and workers for many reasons. While it's obviously helpful to have someone to do the work for them, the simple truth is that in order to feel like conquering heroes, they need someone around to have conquered. To the Veloth, pain flows downward like a river. The cream of society inflict a lot of pain on lower-class Veloth - they have to work like machines just to keep up, nepotism and corruption are rampant, and there's no free or balanced media. If there's somebody even lower than them to pick on, then these same lower-class Veloth will identify with their oppressors rather than the oppressed, especially because the presence of 'the conquered' helps them feel like the government's very expensive campaigns are paying dividends for them.
Even the lowliest Veloth need someone to boss around, and that special honor goes to the Vuri. The Vuri strongly resemble Veloth, and some believe that they are part of the same stock, like the Vilani and Solomani humans. The Vuri are used to do everything that the Veloth don't want to do personally. They are waiters, servants, valets, chauffers, barbers, cooks, tailors, and store-clerks. Some of them are so lucky as to learn the mystical power of writing, although this is always done secretly. Because they constantly surround the Veloth and often work with sharp knives, they have a very meek and servile temperament, and usually think of their Veloth masters as their parents. Because of how easy it is, it is considered crass to make a Vuri cry.
The Veloth have a hearty appreciation for force-of-arms, but the actual nitty-gritty of fighting a war and getting shot at is mostly beneath them. The massive Kaenlang (three syllables - Kah-en-lang) are their go-to people for all violence-based activities. The Kaenlang are more humanoid than the Veloth, with five-fingered hands and plantigrade legs. They average 1.8 meters tall and are heavily muscled, weighing in at 180 or more kilograms. The Kaenlang have a harsh, militant culture that values aggression and discipline, and even those who don't work in the army carry around cudgels as a sign of their prowess. Because they don't speak to the Veloth as much, they tend to regard them as distant deities; those who live among them as field commanders, which military doctrine requires, have to live up to very high expectations.
The Najasat are the people of choice with regards to anything mechanical. Short and squat, the handful of humans who have seen them describe the Najasat as being very, very similar to orangutangs. They have a fully-developed hand at the end of each of their limbs, and they can comfortably write with any of them. The best use of the Najasat is to serve as crew on spaceships, but they're found in any industrial environment where physical prowess is not a necessity. The Veloth tend to have an abiding respect for the Najasat because of how they work with their intellects, and the Najasat are indeed highly intelligent. The Veloth have created for them a culture of self-deprecating humor and a cheerful yet fanatical devotion to even the dirtiest of jobs, because they see in the Najasat that same spark of life that they used to overthrow their own masters.
If the Veloth were better at what they did, then they'd be a real threat to the civilizations around them. Their culture encourages them to stick and work together, they believe firmly in the rule of law, they have no large-group loyalties to place above the whole Hegemony, and they prize science and education - they are some of the finest biologists, genetic engineers, and especially terraformers in the galaxy. Their crowning achievement, the vacuum-capable ferrosilicophage lichen, allows them to slowly turn planets with no atmosphere into agricultural worlds. They also have extremely long lifespans, thanks to their medical science, and much of their top leadership is over 500 years old. Their knowledge of biology is so strong that they can now use Vuri as surrogate mothers, thus freeing women from the former burden of difficult 20-month pregnancies.
Unfortunately, they're reaching their limits. They have just reached TL 13, and J3 is still 20 or 30 years away. They've expanded as far as they can while still keeping their tight central control. The system that served them well when they lived on 20 planets is beginning to fail now that they're on 200, even if those 200 are close together and only 60 or so are well-populated. They're also at the cusp of social change, as TL13 and the invention of cross-species surrogates has not only increased their lifespans but has also increased their birth rates, meaning that the core worlds are having a population explosion and no new jobs are opening up. A huge social clash is on the horizon as the entrenched, conservative elite is under attack from all sides.
Veloth have no formal relations with any interstellar power, and have an official embargo against all other empires and peoples - any ship that appears in Veloth space without pre-arranged clearance will be shot down. Thus, the best way to encounter the Veloth is to wait for them to come to you. Veloth can be found at the corners of civilized space acting as traders and black-market sellers. The Veloth are sadly eager to peddle nuclear and chemical weapons to anyone who can pay them - these things can be freely purchased in their own Empire, and many a human ship has been destroyed by a Veloth missile. Some suspect that this may be part of their efforts to destabilize local governments and soften them up for the inevitable takeover. At the same time, they will buy anything foreign, especially living beings, for scientific purposes. An impoverished planet can buy a lot of heavy iron from the Veloth in return for a few breeding pairs of the local wildlife. Piracy has become fashionable among young Veloth with no prospects, as well, now that there's so little work in the core.
Some describe the Veloth as a sentient plague, but the Veloth
represent a fascinating - and potentially profitable - encounter on the
rims of civilized space. But be careful - everyone knows what happens
when you sell your soul to the Devil . . .
The Veloth have Weak Strength and Endurance (-1) and Notable Intelligence (+2). They suffer a -1 DM to all tests when in an air pressure lower than 1.4 unless they use special equipment. Veloth who were raised within their mainstream society will have Notable Education as well as speaking their three languages. Because they have extremely long lifespans, the average Veloth encountered will have a long list of skills compared to an average Human.